OMAC – One Man Army Corps by Jack Kirby


By Jack Kirby with D. Bruce Berry, Mike Royer & various (DC)
ISBN: 978-1-7795-1026-6 (TPB/Digital edition)

There’s a magnificent abundance of Jack Kirby collections around these days – but still not everything, so I reserve my right carrying on whining…

This slim trade paperback/digital collection re-presents possibly his boldest, most bombastic and most heartfelt creation after the comics landmark that was his Fourth World Cycle.

Famed for larger than life characters and gigantic, cosmic imaginings, “King” Kirby was an astute, spiritual man who had lived through poverty, gangsterism, the Depression and World War II. He experienced Pre-War privation, Post-War optimism, Cold War paranoia, political cynicism and the birth and death of peace-seeking counter-cultures, but always looked to the future while understanding human nature intimately. In OMAC: One Man Army Corps, he gave his darkest assumptions and prognostications free rein, and his “World That’s Coming” has proved far too close to the World we’re frantically trying to escape now…

In 1974, with his newest creations inexplicably tanking at DC, Kirby tentatively considered a return to Marvel, but – ever the consummate professional – he scrupulously carried out every detail of an increasingly onerous and emotionally unrewarding DC contract. When The Demon was cancelled, the King needed another title to maintain his Herculean commitments (Jack was legally obliged to deliver 15 completed pages of art and story per week!) and returned to an idea he had shelved in 1968.

That was to re-interpret Captain America for a possible future where all Kirby’s direst suspicions and fears could be made manifest. In 1974 he revisited those anxieties: producing a nightmare scenario that demanded not a hero but a warrior.

Dubbing his Day-After-Tomorrow dystopia “The World That’s Coming”, Kirby let his mind run free – and scared – to birth a frighteningly close appreciation of our “Now”, where science and wealth have outstripped compassion and reason, and humanity teeters on the brink of self-inflicted global destruction. His thoughts then are represented here in the editorial that accompanied the premier issue…

OMAC #1 launched in September-October 1974, introducing the Global Peace Agency, a world-wide Doomwatch-style police force who manufactured a super-soldier to course-correct mankind and crisis-manage the constant threats to a species with hair-trigger fingers on nuclear stockpiles, chemical weapons of mass destruction and made-to-measure biological horrors.

Base human nature was the true threat behind this series, and that was first demonstrated by decent young man Buddy Blank who – whilst working at Pseudo-People Inc. – discovers that the euphemistically entitled Build-A-Friend division hides a far darker secret than merely pliant girls that come in kit-form. (I believe we even have those now, too…)

Luckily Buddy has been singled out by the GPA’s resident genius Professor Myron Forest for eternal linkage to sentient satellite Brother Eye. His atoms shifted and reconstructed, Buddy is rebuilt to become a living God of War, and the new-born human weapon easily destroys his ruthless employers before their murderous plans can be fully realised. ‘Buddy Blank and Brother Eye’ was followed by a truly prophetic tale, wherein impossibly wealthy criminal Mister Big purchases an entire city simply to assassinate Professor Forest in ‘The Era of the Super-Rich!’

Kirby’s tried and trusted approach was always to pepper high concepts throughout blazing action, and #3 was the most spectacular thus far. OMAC fought ‘One Hundred Thousand Foes!’ to get to murderous Marshal Kafka; terrorist leader of a Rogue State with a private army, WMDs and a solid belief that the United Nations can’t touch him. Sound familiar…? That incredible clash carries on and concludes in #4’s ‘Busting of a Conqueror!’

With #5, Kirby moved on to other new crimes for a new world. The definition of a criminal tends to blur when you can buy anything – even law and justice – but rich old people cherry-picking young men and women for brain-implantation is (hopefully) always going to be a no-no. Still, you can sell or plunder specific organs even now…

Busting the ‘New Bodies for Old!! racket took two issues, and after the One-Man-Army-Corps smashed ‘The Body Bank!’ he embarked on his final adventure. Ecological disaster and water shortage was the theme of the last tale, but as our hero trudges across a dry, desolate lake bottom amidst the dead and dying marine life he is horrified to discover the disaster is the work of one man. ‘The Ocean Stealers!’ (#7) introduced scientific madman Doctor Skuba, who mastered atomic manipulation techniques that had turned feeble Buddy Blank into an unstoppable war machine.

Joe Kubert drew the cover to final outing OMAC #8. ‘Human Genius Vs Thinking Machine’; was an epic episode seeing Brother Eye apparently destroyed as Skuba and Buddy Blank died together in an incredible explosion.

But that final panel was a hasty, last-minute addition by unknown editorial hands, for the saga never actually finished. Kirby, his contract completed, had promptly returned to Marvel and new challenges like Black Panther, Captain America, 2001, Devil Dinosaur, Machine Man and especially The Eternals.

Hormone treatments, Virtual Reality, medical computers, satellite surveillance, genetic tampering and all the other hard-science predictions in OMAC pale into insignificance against Kirby’s terrifyingly accurate social observations in this bombastic and tragically incomplete masterpiece.

OMAC is Jack Kirby’s Edwin Drood: an unfinished symphony of such power and prophecy that it informs not just the entire modern DC universe and inspires ever more incisive and intriguing tales from the King’s artistic inheritors but still presages more truly scary developments in our own mundane and inescapable reality…

As always in these wondrously economical collections it should be noted that the book includes Kirby pencilled pages.

Jack Kirby is unique and uncompromising. If you’re not a fan or simply not prepared to see for yourself what all the fuss has been about then no words of mine will change your mind. That doesn’t alter the fact that Kirby’s work from 1937 to his death in 1994 shaped the entire American comics scene, affected the lives of billions of readers and thousands of creators in all areas of artistic endeavour around the world for generations and still wins new fans and apostles every day, from the young and naive to the most cerebral of intellectuals. His work is instantly accessible, irresistibly visceral, deceptively deep whilst being simultaneously mythic and human: and just plain Great.

© 1974, 1975, 2021 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Scooby-Doo! Team-Up volume 2


By Sholly Fisch, Dario Brizuela, Scott Jeralds & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-5859-7 (TPB/Digital edition)

The links between kids’ animated features and comic books are long established and, I suspect, for young consumers, indistinguishable. After all, it’s just adventure entertainment in the end…

Although never actual comics workers, animation titans and series-writers Joe Ruby and Ken Spears co-originated dozens of cartoon shows which ultimately translated into multi-million comic book sales, joy and glee for generations and a subtle reshaping of the world’s cultural landscape. They popularised the superhero concept on TV, through shows like Superman, The Plastic Man Comedy/Adventure Show and Thundarr the Barbarian, consequently employing former funnybook creators such as Doug Wildey, Alex Toth, Steve Gerber, Jack Kirby and other comics giants. For all that, they are most renowned for devising mega-brand Scooby-Doo, Where Are You!

Over decades of screen material, Scooby-Doo and his two-legged sidekicks Shaggy, Velma, Daphne and Freddy became global icons, and amidst mountains of merchandise and derivatives generated by the franchise was a succession of comic book series. They started with Gold Key (30 issues beginning December 1969 and ending in 1974), through Charlton (11 issues 1975-1976); Marvel (9 issues 1977-1979); Harvey (1993-1994) and Archie (21 issues, 1995-1997). The creative cast included Phil DeLara, Jack Manning, Warren Tufts, Mark Evanier, Dan Spiegle, Bill Williams, and many, many others.

In 1997, DC Comics acquired all Hanna Barbera properties for its Cartoon Network imprint, which was for a very long time the last bastion of children’s comics in America. It produced some truly magical homespun material (such as Tiny Titans, Batman: Brave and the Bold and Billy Batson and the Magic of Shazam!) as well as stunning interpretations of such television landmarks as Powerpuff Girls, Dexter’s Laboratory, Ben 10 and vintage gems such as The Flintstones and Scooby Doo…

In 2013, the pesky mystery-solving kids fully integrated with the DCU via a digital series of team ups that inevitably manifested as comics books and graphic novels. Compiling online chapters #13-24 of Scooby-Doo! Team-Up, which were then released as #7-12 (December 2014-May 2015) of a physical comic book, this second captivating compendium consists of a wild parade of joint ventures from writer Sholly Fisch, blending the best of both worlds – animated screen and folding paper…

Lettered throughout by Saida Temofonte we kick off with ‘Scooby-Doo, When are you?’, visualised by Scott Jeralds & colourist Franco Riesco as, way back when, Professor Alfred Einstone’s new time machine plucks the plucky kids of Mystery Inc. back to the Stone Age. Unable to return the future kids stay with the professors neighbours Fred Flintstone and Barney Rubble, but it’s not long before they are all embroiled in scary hijinks after a trip to the theatre leads to a clash with The Phantom of the Operrock…

After joining forces to expose a property scam and prove rich businessmen  are evil in very era the visitors are sent home thanks to the power of super alien the Great Gazoo, but he slightly overshoots them…

With hues by Wendy Broome, the amazed investigators are ‘Future Shocked’ to materialise far ahead of their own time in the home of George Jetson and his post-atomic family, just in time to save George’s job as a Space-Age Specter targets Spacely Sprockets and bitter rival Cogswells Cogs. With the profit motive not applicable to this case, Velma soon deduces who’s really behind the ghostly goings on before a lucky coincidence finally restores our time travellers to their own milieu…

In modern day Metropolis, the Daily Planet is plagued by Great Caesar’s Ghost in ‘Truth, Justice, and Scooby Snacks’ courtesy of Fisch, artist Dario Brizuela, and colourist Franco Riesco. Knowing his limits, Superman calls in the gang to help Lois Lane, Jimmy Olsen and Perry White solve the baffling case and unmask a sneaky super-villain behind everything.

However, when Red Kryptonite turns the Action Ace into a monster and the reporters pitch in to help, their temporary technologically-induced superpowers accidentally end up in Scooby and Shaggy. Good thing Superdog Krypto is around to help…

Another classic Hanna Barbera feature returns as ‘Quest for Mystery!’ sees the ghostbusting teen in competition with boy adventurer Jonny Quest and his monster-hunting family. When the cursed Keeler Ruby is stolen and a mummy marauds through a museum, sinister mastermind Doctor Zin is unmasked after Jonny’s genius dad Dr. Benton Quest is abducted. Of course, even Zin’s Island of Monsters proves inadequate against Shaggy and Scooby’s talent for inducing fortunate accidents…

When warring nations seek to sign a peace treaty, the spirit of warrior King Leopold disrupts the ceremony and spy agency International Sneaky Service consults Freddie, Daphne and Velma for a solution. With Scooby and Shaggy in tow, the kids get on the case with top ISS operative Secret Squirrel (and Morocco Mole!) to unmask an old enemy disrupting peace for profit in ‘I Spy Something… Boo!’

The never-ending chase closes for now with a return trip to Batman’s hometown and clash with ‘Gotham Ghouls’, with Harley Quinn and Poison Ivy setting a trap for the gang. Happily, it’s just a means of securing their assistance against a spook singling the bad girls out for personalised torment. However, once the kids start looking, they soon see that the haunting is not supernatural in nature, and it’s not one persecuting phantom, but two…

Despite being ostensibly aimed at TV kids of a certain vintage, this fast-paced, funny and superbly inclusive parcel of thrills deliciously revisits the charm of early DC in stand-alone mini-sagas no self-respecting fun-fan should miss: accessible, entertaining, well-rendered yarns for the broadest range of excitement-seeking readers. This is a terrific tome offering perfect, old fashioned delight. What more do you need to know?
© 2015 Hanna-Barbera. All Rights Reserved. Scooby-Doo, The Flintstones, The Jetsons, Jonny Quest, Secret Squirrel and all related characters and elements are ™ and © Hanna-Barbera (s15). Superman, Batgirl, Catwoman, Harley Quinn, Poison Ivy and all related characters and elements are ™ & © DC Comics.

Superman in the Fifties


By Robert Bernstein, Otto Binder, Jerry Coleman, Bill Finger, Edmond Hamilton, William Woolfolk, Wayne Boring, Al Plastino, Curt Swan, Win Mortimer, Kurt Schaffenberger, Stan Kaye, Ray Burnley, Sy Barry & various (DDC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-7795-0758-7 (TPB/Digital edition)

In the early years of this century, DC launched a series of graphic archives intended to define DC’s top heroes through the decades: delivering magnificent past comic book magic from the Forties to the Seventies via a tantalisingly nostalgic blast of other – arguably better, but certainly different – times. The collections carried the cream of the creative crop, divided into subsections, partitioned by cover galleries, and supplemented by short commentaries; a thoroughly enjoyable introductory reading experience. I prayed for more but was frustrated… until now…

First in a trilogy of trade paperbacks – the others being Batman and Wonder Woman (thus far, but hopefully Aquaman, Green Arrow and Martian Manhunter are in contention too, as they have become such big shot screen stars these days) – the experiment is being re-run, including even more inviting wonders from the company’s amazing, family-friendly canon.

Gathered here is an expanded menu of delights adding to that of the 2002 edition, and even rerunning Mark Waid’s original context-stuffed Introduction.

The stories originated in Action Comics #151, 162, 223, 232, 234, 236, 239, 242, 247, 249, 252, 254-255; Adventure Comics #210; Showcase #9; Superman #65, 79-80, 96-97, 118, 125, 127, Superman’s Girl Friend Lois Lane #8; Superman’s Pal Jimmy Olsen #13, 19 and World’s Finest Comics #68, 74, 75 which span the entire decade as the Adventures of Superman TV show propelled the Man of Tomorrow to even greater heights of popularity.

Supported by the first of a series of factual briefings, the collection leads with Part One: Classic Tales, opening on ‘Three Supermen from Krypton!’ Written by William Woolfolk and illustrated by Al Plastino (one of a talented triumvirate who absolutely defined the hero during this decade), it originated in Superman #65, (July/August 1950): a classy clash revealing unknown facts about Superman’s vanished homeworld. It also provided the increasingly untouchable champion with a much needed physical challenge after a capsule containing three comatose Kryptonian lawbreakers crashes on Earth and the inmates suddenly discover they have incredible powers…

Woolfolk and paramount art team Wayne Boring (peak of that triumvirate) & inker Stan Kaye probed outer space to provide another daunting threat in ‘The Menace from the Stars!’ (World’s Finest Comics #68, January/February 1954). However, all was not as it seemed in this quirky mystery, as a brush with a Green Kryptonite-infused asteroid gave the Man of Steel amnesia. Happily, before he could inadvertently expose his secret identity, another sudden impact set things aright…

Bill Finger, Boring & Kaye crafted ‘The Girl Who Didn’t Believe in Superman!’: a fanciful yet evocative human interest tale typical of the era and sorely missed in modern, adrenaline-drenched times. Cover-dated March 1955, the tearjerker from Superman #96 shared the tribulations of a blind child losing hope and is followed by a previously unseen entry.

‘It!’ debuted in Action Comics #162 (November 1951 by Finger, Boring & Kaye): an early alien-menace-with-a-moral yarn depicting a destructive rainbow-hued enigma terrorising Metropolis until the Man of Steel deduces the thing’s incredible secret.

Superman #97 (May 1955) carried Jerry Coleman, Boring & Kaye’s canonical landmark ‘Superboy’s Last Day in Smallville!’, revealing the previously unseen rite of passage by way of exposing a crook’s decades-delayed masterplan, after which Action Comics #239 exposes ‘Superman’s New Face’ (April 1958) – courtesy of famed pulp writer Edmond Hamilton, Boring & Kaye. When an atomic lab accident deforms Superman to the point that he must wear a full-face lead mask, there is – of course – method in his seeming madness…

The  first section closes with a tale from one of the many spin-off titles of the period – and one that gives many 21st century readers a few uncontrollable qualms of conscience. Superman’s Girl Friend Lois Lane was one of precious few comics with a female lead, but her character ranged erratically from man-hungry, unscrupulous schemer through ditzy simpleton to indomitable and brilliant heroine – often all in the same issue.

Most stories were played for laughs in a patriarchal, parochial manner; a “gosh, aren’t women funny?” tone that appals me today – but not as much as the fact that I still love them to bits. It helps that they’re all so beautifully illustrated by sublimely whimsical Kurt Schaffenberger. ‘The Ugly Superman!’ comes from #8 (April 1959), revealing how a costumed wrestler falls for Lois, giving the Caped Kryptonian another chance for some pretty unpleasant Super-teasing. It was written by the veteran Robert Bernstein, who – unlike me – can cite the tenor of the times as his excuse.

As the franchise expanded, so did the character roster and internal history. Part Two: The Superman Family is dedicated to our hero’s ever-extending supporting cast, leading with ‘Superman’s Big Brother!’ (Superman #80, January/February 1953). Scripted by Hamilton and limned by Plastino, it sees a wandering super-powered alien mistaken for a sibling, before an incredible truth comes out. It’s followed here by previously unreprinted tale ‘The First Superman of Krypton’ (Hamilton, Boring & Kaye, Action Comics #223, December 1956) with Superman finding video records from his birthworld and learning how – and why – his father Jor-El briefly enjoyed powers under a red sun…

Next comes the introduction of a genuine new family member. After the Man of Tomorrow made his mark as Earth’s premier champion, his originators took a long look and reasoned that a different perspective could provide a fresh look. What would it be like for a fun-loving lad who could do literally anything?

Answers came as Jerry Siegel & Joe Shuster – following years agitating their publisher – unleashed Superboy: inventing and/or fleshing out doomed Krypton, Kal-El’s early years, foster parents and a childhood full of fun and incident. The experiment was a huge hit and the lad swiftly bounced into the lead spot of Adventure Comics and – in 1949 – his own title: living a life forever set 20 years behind his adult counterpart.

Encountering crooks, monsters, aliens, other super kids, school woes and the suspicions of girl-next-door Lana Lang, the Boy of Steel enjoyed an eventful, wonderful life which only got better in Adventure Comics #210 (March 1955), as Otto Binder, Curt Swan & Sy Barry introduced a wayward, mischievous and dangerously playful canine companion who had survived Krypton’s doom due to a freak accident in ‘The Super-Dog from Krypton!’.

Krypto had been baby Kal-El’s pet on Krypton before being used by desperate Jor-El as a test animal for the space rocket he was building. The dog’s miraculous arrival on Earth more than a decade later heralded a wave of survivors from the dead world over the latter part of the decade: all making Superboy less lonely and unique. Every kid needs a dog…

Fresh additions follow, beginning with ‘The Story of Superman, Junior’ (Action Comics #232, September 1959, by Coleman, Boring & Kaye) which sees the Man of Tomorrow adopt a super-powered lad whose space capsule crashes outside the city. However, Johnny Kirk is human, vanished from Earth years previously and his strangely familiar origin and eager inexperience poses an existential threat after the hero adopts him…

Cover-dated December 1958, Action Comics #247 details how an insidious criminal scheme to expose the hero’s secret identity prompts an extreme face-saving solution in Binder & Plastino’s ‘Superman’s Lost Parents!’ before we reach the landmark which, more than any other, moved Superman from his timeless Golden Age holdover status to become a vibrant part of the DC Silver Age revival. It came in in Action Comics #252 (May 1959) as ‘The Supergirl from Krypton!’ introduced cousin Kara Zor-El, born on a city-sized fragment of Krypton, which was somehow hurled intact into space when the planet exploded.

There had been a few intriguing test-runs before the future star of the ever-expanding Superman universe finally took off, but now the stage was set.

Eventually, Argo City turned to Kryptonite like the rest of the detonated world’s debris, and her dying parents – observing Earth through their scopes – sent their daughter to safety as they perished. Landing on Earth, she met Kal-El, who created her cover-identity of Linda Lee: hiding her in an orphanage in small town Midvale so she could learn about her new world and master her new powers in secrecy and safety. This time the concept struck home and the teenaged refugee began her lengthy career as a solo-star from the very next issue.

This section ends with another popular animal guest-star who was also one of the most memorable recurring super-foes of the period. ‘Titano the Super-Ape!’ debuted in Superman #127 (February 1959): a chimpanzee mutated into a Kryptonite-empowered King Kong analogue after being launched into space by rocket scientists. The chimp’s devotion to Lois and big hatred for the Man of Steel were unchanged in the aftermath, and as a skyscraper-sized giant ape with kryptonite vision, he became too dangerous to live. Thankfully, the Action Ace found another way in this beloved masterpiece by Binder, Boring & Kaye combining action, pathos and drama to superb effect.

Part Three: The Villains highlights our hero’s greatest enemies, leading with a team-up of The Prankster, Lex Luthor and extra-dimensional sprite Mr. Mxyztplk in a tale more mirthful mystery than moment of menace and mayhem. Devised by Hamilton, Boring & Kaye from Action Comics #151, December, 1950) ‘Superman’s Super-Magic Show!’ is followed by ‘The Creature of 1,000 Disguises!’ (Action Comics #234, November 1957) by the same team, with the hero plagued by a shapeshifting alien whose idea of fun is juvenile, frustrating and potentially catastrophic.

Superman #118 (January 1958) sees an uncredited writer & Plastino detail ‘The Death of Superman!’  as a fake Man of Steel tricks Lois in an attempt to secure damaging evidence after which Binder, Boring & Kaye reveal ‘Superman’s New Uniform!’ (Action Comics #236, January 1958) as a deadly plot by Luthor to destroy his arch enemy.

Binder & Plastino introduced both the greatest new villain and most expansive character concept the series had yet seen in Action Comics #242, (July 1958) as ‘The Super-Duel in Space’ saw evil alien scientist Brainiac attempt to add Metropolis to his menagerie of miniaturised cities in bottles.

As well as a titanic tussle in its own right, this tale completely changed the mythology of the Man of Steel: introducing Kandor, a city full of Kryptonians who had escaped the planet’s destruction when Brainiac captured them. Although Superman rescued his fellow survivors, the new villain escaped to strike again and again. It would be years before the hero restored the Kandorians to their original size.

Action Comics #249, (February 1959) sees Luthor deliberately irradiate himself with Green K to avoid capture in Binder & Plastino’s ‘The Kryptonite Man!’, but his evil genius proves no match for our hero’s sharp wits, used with equal aplomb in ‘The Battle with Bizarro!’ (Action #254, July 1959) by the same creative team. This story actually re-introduced the imperfect duplicate, who had initially appeared in a well-received story in Superboy #68, from 1958. Even way back then, sales trumped death…

The Frankensteinian doppelganger was resurrected thanks to Luthor’s malfunctioning duplicator ray and Bizarro’s well-intentioned search for a place in the world caused chaos, exacerbated when the lonely monster used the device to make more of his kind. The saga was continued over two issues – an almost unheard of luxury back then – concluding with outrageous empathy in ‘The Bride of Bizarro!’ (#255, August 1959).

Final section Part Four: Superman’s Pals stems largely from that epochal television show, which made most of the supporting cast into household names., but begins with an early exploit of the “World’s Finest Team” from World’s Finest Comics #74, January/February 1955. The great friends’ solidarity is upset after a shapeshifting alien orchestrates a manic rivalry but ‘The Contest of Heroes’ (Finger, Swan & Kaye) is not what it seems…

Superman #79 (November/December 1952) has Hamilton & Plastino depict how a corrupt publisher seeks ‘The End of the Planet!’ but is outfoxed by the dedication of the reporters he made jobless whilst ‘Superman and Robin!’ is a classic bait-and-switch teaser from WFC #75 (March/April 1955), wherein a disabled Batman can only fret and fume as his erstwhile assistant seemingly dumps him for a better man. I’m sure Finger, Swan & Kaye knew that no-one would believe that they had really broken-up the Batman/Boy Wonder team, but the reason for the ploy is a killer….

The Adventures of Superman television show launched in the autumn of 1952, adopting its name from the long-running radio serial that preceded it. It was a monolithic hit of the still young medium and National Periodicals began tentatively expanding their increasingly valuable franchise with new characters and titles. First up were the gloriously charming, light-hearted escapades of that rash, capable but naïve photographer and “cub reporter” from the Daily Planet. The solo-career of the first spin-off star from the Caped Kryptonian’s ever-expanding entourage began with Superman’s Pal Jimmy Olsen #1, which launched in 1954 with a September-October cover date. Here, ‘The Stolen Superman Signal’ (#13, June 1956, by Binder, Swan & Ray Burnley) perfectly displays the lad’s pluck and aura of light-hearted whimsy that distinguished the early stories when  criminals target the cub reporter’s secret weapon: a wristwatch emitting a hypersonic sound only the Action Ace an hear…

The Planet’s top female reporter also got her own comic book thanks to TV exposure, but it took another three years for the cautious Editors to tentatively push that boat out again. In 1957, just as the Silver Age was getting going, try-out title Showcase – which had launched The Flash  in #4 & 8) and Challengers of the Unknown (#6 & 7) – followed up with a brace of issues entitled Superman’s Girl Friend Lois Lane. Soon after they awarded the “plucky News-hen” a series of her own. Technically it was her second, following a brief mid-1940s string of solo tales in Superman.

From Showcase #9 (June/July 1957) ‘The Girl in Superman’s Past!’ is by Coleman & Plastino, introducing an adult Lana Lang as a rival for superman’s affections and beginning decades of sparring that led to many a comic-book catfight…

Superman’s Pal Jimmy Olsen #19 (March 1957, by Binder, Swan & Burnley) contributed comedy classic ‘Superman’s Kid Brother’ as major head trauma convinces the cub reporter that he is also superpowered and cruel circumstance keeps that misapprehension alive long past the point where his life is endangered…

The last tale in this section – and the volume – is ‘Superman’s New Power!’ by Coleman, Boring & Kaye from Superman #125 (November 1958). Here an uncanny accident grants the Man of Steel new and incomprehensible abilities with catastrophic consequences…

Also including an extensive cover gallery by Plastino, Boring, Swan, Win Mortimer, Kaye & Burnley, and extensive creator Biographies, this is a wonderful slice of comics history, refreshing, comforting and compelling. Any fan or newcomer will delight in this primer into the ultimate icon of Truth Justice and The American Way.
© 1950, 1951, 1952, 1953, 1954, 1955, 1956, 1957, 1958, 1959, 2020 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Adam Strange: Planet Heist


By Andy Diggle, Pasqual Ferry & Dave McCaig (DC Comics)
ISBN: 9787-1-4012-0727-4 (TPB/Digital)

As the Silver Age began in 1956 – reintroducing superheroes to markets overflowing with cops and cowboys and cosmic invaders – try-out vehicle Showcase #17 (cover-dated November/December 1958) launched a true hero for the space-age in a feature entitled ‘Adventures on Other Worlds’.

An instant success, it debuted as the lead in Mystery in Space #53, beguiling and enthralling a fresh generation of thrill-starved, starry-eyed  kids under the title Adam Strange.

Strange was an Terran archaeologist who, whilst fleeing from enraged tribesmen in Peru, jumped a 25ft chasm only to be hit by a stray teleport beam from a planet orbiting Alpha Centauri. He rematerialised on another world, filled with uncanny monsters and fabulous civilisations, and was rescued by a beautiful woman named Alanna.

Rann was a world of constant danger: non-stop peril for which brains, not brawn, were the best solution, but Strange was only able to stay on the atomic-war scarred planet for as long as it took the teleporting Zeta Beam radiation to dissipate, whence he would fade away to reappear on Earth until the next beam struck. He found true love with Alanna and unparalleled adventure, but the universe seemed determined to keep them apart.

After years of travail and turmoil Adam finally relocated permanently to Rann, but his new homeworld grew no less dangerous…

This smartly compelling rollercoaster ride (collecting an 8-issue miniseries acting as a prequel and introduction to the many story-strands forming the astoundingly ambitious Infinite Crisis crossover mega-event) finds the former academician on Earth to wrap up his affairs. However, when he is ready to depart, the Zeta beam fails to arrive…

After months of increasingly desperate research, his Justice League contacts reveal that Rann is gone: while he packed trinkets and underwear, a supernova wiped out everything he ever knew and loved…

Desolate and off the rails, Strange’s life goes swiftly downhill – until he is attacked by alien bounty hunters. In the wake of the resultant destruction, he knows something is not kosher, and the only logical conclusion must be that Rann still exists…

This is a breakneck-paced science fiction conspiracy-mystery that finally revives the rational, intellectual hero fans haven’t seen since the end of the Julie Schwartz days: an indomitable fighter who thinks things out as he roars through the universe, accused of destroying the very world he seeks, meeting – and usually pursued by – a legion of DC’s outer space icons such as Vril Dox, bellicose Thanagarians, the Omega Men and paramilitary space cops the Dark Stars, as well as an unexpected surprise über-villain…

Deducing a greater threat to all reality, avoiding the guns of a billion bloodthirsty foes and the machinations of many malignant masterminds, Adam Strange fights to regain his family and world and in so doing unravels a plot to shake the very stars…

Bombast and hyperbole aside, Planet Heist is a superb thriller (regrettably still not available in digital form) heavily draped in DC’s convoluted history and continuity, yet somehow still fresh and streamlined enough to entertain the most clueless neophyte and seasoned canon-feeder equally.

British writer Andy Diggle (Green Arrow: Year One, The Losers, Deadpool, Daredevil, Shadowland, James Bond 007, Star Wars) shines, blending astral wonderment with the gritty realism he’s famed for. The forceful illustration of Spain’s “Pascal” Ferry (Thor, Superman, Ultimate Fantastic Four, Tom Strong) – whose actual name Pasqual was apparently too tricky for English speakers – combines with colourist Dave McCaig’s lush, painterly hues to make even the most fantastic moments utterly authentic. This brilliant tale only falters on the last page, and that’s because the solution leads inexorably to another book…

Gripping and fun, this rocket-paced riot is well worth the time and attention of every fan of fantastic fiction, but be warned: for final resolutions you’ll need to read Rann-Thanagar War and Infinite Crisis… so you might as well line them all up as well as the other Infinite Crisis prequel series…
© 2004, 2005 DC Comics.  All Rights Reserved.

Superman’s Greatest Team-Ups


By Mike W. Barr, Cary Bates, E. Nelson Bridwell, Gary Cohn, Gerry Conway, Steve Englehart, Steve Gerber, Paul Levitz, Dan Mishkin, Denny O’Neil, Martin Pasko, Len Wein, Murphy Anderson, Rich Buckler, Dick Dillin, Don Heck, Alex Saviuk, Jim Starlin, Joe Staton, Curt Swan, Rick Veitch & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-7795-0486-9 (HB/Digital edition)

From the moment a kid first sees his second superhero, the only thing they wants is to see how the new gaudy gladiator stacks up against the first one. From the earliest days of the comics industry (and according to DC Comics Presents editor Julie Schwartz it was the same with the pulps and dime novels that preceded it) we’ve wanted our idols to meet, associate, battle together – and if you follow the Timely/Marvel model, that means against each other – far more than we want to see them trounce their archenemies in a united front…

The concept of team-up books – an established star pairing or battling (usually both) with less well-selling company characters – was far from new when DC awarded their then-biggest gun. DCCP was launched in the publicity-drenched weeks preceding the release of Superman: The Movie: a regular arena to have adventures with other stars of their firmament, just as the Gotham Guardian had been doing since the mid-1960s in The Brave and the Bold.

In truth, the Action Ace had already enjoyed the serial sharing experience once before, when World’s Finest Comics briefly ejected the Caped Crusader and Superman battled beside a coterie of heroes including Flash, Robin, Wonder Woman, Teen Titans, Hawkman, Green Arrow, Dr. Fate and others (issues #198-214; November 1970 to October/November 1972) before the original status quo was re-established.

This is something of a companion volume to the previously published Adventures of Superman: José Luis García-López volume 1, in that it also publishes team-ups from DC Comics Presents, but these are stories he didn’t illustrate. Instead. a host of talented individuals devised fun, thrilling and even amusing adventures represented here by material from DCCP #5, 9-10, 12, 14, 19, 28, 30, 35, 38-39, 45, 50, 58, 63, 67, 71 and 97, spanning January 1979 to September 1986. The stories are augmented by covers by Ross Andru, Dick Giordano, Dick Dillin, Jim Starlin, Rich Buckler, Steve Mitchell, George Pérez, Frank Giacoia, Gil Kane, Ernie Colón, José Luis García-López, Eduardo Barreto, Rick Veitch & Bob Smith.

We begin with Sea King Aquaman who is embroiled in ‘The War of the Undersea Cities’ (by Len Wein, Paul Levitz & Murphy Anderson) when his subjects re-open ancient hostilities with the mer-folk of undersea neighbour Tritonis, home of Superman’s old college girlfriend Lori Lemaris. Fortunately, cooler heads prevail when Ocean Master is revealed to be meddling in their sub-sea politics…

Next, Marty Pasko, Joe Staton & Jack Abel expose the ‘Invasion of the Ice People!’ (#9, May 1979) wherein Wonder Woman assists in repelling an attack by malign disembodied intellects before a 2-part tale commences with ‘The Miracle Man of Easy Company’ (Cary Bates, Staton & Abel, #10, June)…

When a super-bomb blasts Superman back to World War II it results in a momentous meeting with indomitable everyman soldier Sgt. Rock and a battle that changes the course of the war.

Cover-dated August 1979, DCCP #12 offered a duel between the Action Ace and New God Mister Miracle in ‘Winner Take Metropolis’ – by Steve Englehart, Buckler & Giordano before Levitz finishes a time-travel epic not actually included here. That ambitious continued epic saw the Legion of Super-Heroes stop Superman saving a little boy from alien abduction to preserve the integrity of the time-line. It didn’t help that the lad was Jon Ross, son of Clark Kent’s oldest friend and most trusted confidante…

Deranged by loss, Pete Ross here risks the destruction of all reality by enlisting the aid of Superboy to battle his older self in ‘Judge, Jury… and No Justice!’ (Levitz, Dillin & Giordano from October 1979 cover-dated DCCP #14, whilst March 1980 saw Batgirl help solve eerie mystery ‘Who Haunts This House?’ (by Dennis O’Neil, Staton & Frank Chiaramonte) before we catapult to #28 and the concluding chapter of a cosmic epic which involved Green Lantern, Martian Manhunter J’onn J’onzz, and the debut of intergalactic brute Mongul.

Here the aftermath of the affair sees Supergirl join her Kryptonian cousin in scouring the cosmos for the vanished tyrant and ancient doom weapon ‘Warworld!’ (Wein, Jim Starlin & Romeo Tanghal). Unfortunately, once they found it, Mongul unleashed all its resources to destroy his annoying adversaries and in the resultant cataclysm the mobile gun-planet was demolished. The resultant detonation blasted Kara Zor-El literally out of existence…

Issue #30 (February 1981) saw Black Canary plagued by nightmares starring her deceased husband, but upon closer investigation Superman proved that diabolical Dr. Destiny was behind ‘A Dream of Demons!’, whilst some semblance of sanity returned in #35 (July) as Superman and Man-Bat hunted for ‘The Metamorphosis Machine!’ (Pasko, Swan & Vince Colletta) which might save chiropterist Kirk Langstrom’s baby daughter from death. All they had to do was beat murderous maniac Atomic Skull and his minions to the device…

DC Comics Presents #38 (October) united Man of Steel and Fastest Man Alive as an extra-dimensional tyrant attempted to foment a high velocity war between Earth’s fastest heroes in ‘Stop the World – I Want to Get Off Go Home!’ (Pasko & Don Heck), after which #39 catapulted Superman into the weirdest case of his career as he and Plastic Man trailed ‘The Thing That Goes Woof in the Night!’ (Pasko, Staton & Smith) to a Toymakers Convention where third-rate super-villains Fliptop and Dollface were trying to rob freshly reformed, barely recovering maniac Toyman…

Firestorm the Nuclear Man stole the show in #45 (May 1982) as Gerry Conway, Buckler & Smith teamed him and Superman against terrorist Kriss-Kross – who took over the nation’s electronic military defences to implement ‘The Chaos Network’.

The anniversary DC Comics Presents #50 (October) features ‘When You Wish Upon a Planetoid!’ by Dan Mishkin, Gary Cohn, Swan & Kurt Schaffenberger, which saw a cosmic calamity split Superman and Clark Kent into separate entities…

Courtesy of Mike W. Barr, Swan & Dave Hunt, Robin and Elongated Man joined the Action Ace in #58 (June 1983) to foil devious tech-savvy bandits employing ‘The Deadly Touch of the Intangibles’ after which overnight sensation Amethyst, Princess of Gemworld and the Man of Steel battled debase extradimensional tyrant Black Opal in #63 (November 1983).

Scripted by Mishkin & Cohn, ‘Worlds to Conquer!’ was illustrated by Alex Saviuk, Colón, Smith & Gary Martin, capitalising on the contemporary fad for fantasy, with an Earth-raised magical alien princess helping save humanity from roaming space-warps, super-criminals and her personal pantheon of mystic miscreants…

Cover-dated March 1984, DCCP #67 proffered traditional seasonal fare from Wein, E. Nelson Bridwell and veteran Superman dream team Swan & Anderson. ‘Twas the Fright Before Christmas!’ finds maniacal original Toyman Winslow Schott seeking to sabotage festivities and a debilitated Man of Tomorrow teaming with a hairy bearded guy in a red suit…

Hunt substituted for Anderson in #71’s ‘The Mark of Bizarro!’ (July 1984) as Superman joins his zany doppelganger to save square planet Htrae and embattled Earth from a bizarro version of power-parasite Amazo. Ultimately, it comes down to Bizarro employing his wits to win!…

We close with the final story in DC Comics Presents’ run.

In 1986 DC celebrated its 50th year with the groundbreaking Crisis on Infinite Earths: radically overhauling its convoluted multiversal continuity and starting afresh. In the aftermath of making many planes into one singular universe, all Superman titles were cancelled or suspended pending a back-to-basics reboot courtesy of John Byrne. The process allowed opportunity for a number of very special farewells to the old mythology…

One of the most intriguing and challenging came in the last issue (#97, September 1986) wherein Steve Gerber, Rick Veitch & Smith offered a creepy adieu to many of Superman’s greatest foes in ‘Phantom Zone: the Final Chapter’…

Tracing Jor-El’s discovery of the Phantom Zone through to the imminent end of the multiverse, this dark yarn built on Gerber’s potent miniseries The Phantom Zone, revealing the dread region of nothingness was in fact the sentient echo of a dead universe which had always regarded the creatures deposited within it as irritants and agonising intruders.

Now, as cosmic carnage reigned, Aethyr, served by Kryptonian mage Thul-Kar, caused the destruction of Bizarro World Htrae and deification/corruption of Fifth Dimensional pest Mr. Mxyzptlk, as well as the subsequent crashing of Krypton’s Argo City on Metropolis.

As a result, General Zod and his fellow immaterial inmates were liberated to wreak havoc upon Earth – but only until the now-crystalline pocket dimension merged with and absorbed the felons before implausibly abandoning Superman to face his uncertain future as the very Last Son of Krypton…

Designed as introductions to lesser-known DC stars, these tales are wonderfully accessible to newcomers and readers unfamiliar with burdensome continuity. They provide an ideal jumping on point for anybody who just wants a few moments of easy comic book fun and thrills.

These short, pithy adventures were and remain a perfect shop window for DC’s fascinating catalogue of characters and creators. DC Comics Presents delivered a breadth and variety of self-contained and satisfying entertainments ranging from the merely excellent to utterly indispensable. This book is a perfect introduction to the DC Universe for every kid of any age and another delightful slice of captivating Costumed Dramas from simpler, more inviting times…
© 1979, 1980, 1981, 1982, 1983, 1984, 1986, 2021 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Tails of the Super-Pets


By Jerry Siegel, Robert Bernstein, Otto Binder, Leo Dorfman, Bill Finger, Edmond Hamilton, William Moulton Marston, Jim Shooter, Curt Swan, Jim Mooney, Pete Costanza, John Forte, Ramona Fradon, Sheldon Moldoff, George Papp, Harry G. Peter, Sy Barry, Stan Kaye, George Klein, Charles Paris & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1779513397 (TPB/Digital edition)

Once upon a time, comics embraced whimsy as much as angst, spectacle, sex and violence – so much so, that superheroes had pets for partners. Now there’s a movie about super-pets. You don’t have to like the notion, but plenty of us do.

Once upon another time, in the far future, a band of super-powered kids from dozens of alien civilisations took inspiration from the legend of the greatest champion of all time and formed a club of heroes. One day, those Children of Tomorrow came back in time and invited that legend to join them…

That’s how the tomorrow teen superstars started, courtesy of writer Otto Binder and artist Al Plastino in early 1958. The monumental assemblage’s popularity waxed and waned over decades and they were regularly reimagined and rebooted, but that core dream of empowered children was evergreen and proliferated. As their fame grew, the squad diversified, adding a Legion Espionage Squad, an evil Legion of Super-Villains, a Legion of Substitute Heroes ad infinitum…

DC had long exploited the attractions of bestial stars of fang and claw. Many Golden Age heroes had animal assistants and allies (like Dr. Mid-Nite’s owl Hooty, Airwave’s parrot Static and canine champions Elmo (Doll Man), and Thor (the Dan Richards Manhunter) among too many to mention. Streak the Wonder Dog actually ousted the original Green Lantern from his own comic book.

In the 1950s, Rex the Wonder Dog had his own long-running, astonishingly daft but beautifully illustrated title, with the majority of issues also featuring beloved hairy gumshoe Detective Chimp. Moreover, every newly-popular western star (and a few war heroes) who took the place of the declining superhero population had weaponised dogs, birds and especially horses to aid and augment their crusades for justice.

However, not all mystery men and women faded away. Wonder Woman and Batman and Robin weathered the hostile environment, and the Superman franchise grew exponentially -thanks to a hit movie, landmark TV series and continued radio and newspaper presence.

…And one day someone at National/DC said, “you what else kids like? Animals…”

That led to a slow trickle of empowered animals popping up across the Kryptonian end of DC’s landscape, and a few other incidental animal antics in the lives of many superheroes who survived on the coattails of the “Trinity” – particularly Aquaman (who’s cruelly underrepresented here, since his whole schtick was underwater “stupid pet tricks”…)

If you are a purist, there’s a lot you won’t like here – not the stories: those are still immaculately conceived and delivered, but the running order (not chronological, leading to some jarring moments, especially for Supergirl who seemingly goes from orphan to adopted back to the institution), and possibly the fact that – technically – many of the critters romping here were not in the actual Legion of Super-Pets (or in fact the forthcoming movie, which remakes the brilliant beasts into a “League”). I guess that just means we can look forward to a 75-year Celebration archival edition just for Krypto in 2025….

Here Endeth the Lesson: let’s talk about fun now.

What we do have on offer today is a joyously bright and bold compendium of charming adventure and repercussion-free thrills comprising mad moments from Action Comics #261, 266, 277, 292, 293, Adventure Comics #210, 256, 293, 322, 364, Batman #125, Superboy #76, Superman #176 and Wonder Woman #23, spanning 1947-1968 and adorned where applicable with covers by Curt, Swan with Stan Kaye & George Klein and H.G. Peter.

I’ve rambled on and indulged myself because there’s no introduction or context-delivering text so you can start well-briefed with the truly delightful Supergirl short from Action Comics #277 (June 1961) Crafted by Jerry Siegel & Jim Mooney, ‘The Battle of the Super-Pets!’ finds her cat Streaky typically envious of attention the teenager pays to sneaky ingratiating mutt Krypto. When Superman suggests they compete for her attentions to prove who’s best (no, really!), they choose the most unlucky locale for their arena…

That’s followed by Siegel & Mooney’s debut tail (sorry, not sorry) from Action Comics #261 (February 1960) which introduces the homeless earth stray, revealing how Streaky becomes, at irregular intervals ‘Supergirl’s Super-Pet!’…

The next tale is where we should have started as Adventure Comics #210 (March 1955) introduces ‘The Super-Dog from Krypton!’

After the Man of Tomorrow had made his mark as Earth’s premier champion, his originators took a long look and reasoned that a very different tone could offer a fresh look. What would it be like for a fun-loving lad who could do literally anything?

The answer came as Jerry Siegel & Joe Shuster – after years of agitating the publisher – unleashed the concept of Superboy: fleshing out doomed Krypton, Kal-El’s early years, foster parents and a childhood full of fun and incident. The experiment was a huge hit and the lad swiftly bounced into the lead slot of Adventure Comics and – in 1949 – his own title: living a life forever set 20 years behind his adult counterpart.

Encountering crooks, monsters, aliens, other super kids, school woes and the suspicions of girl-next-door Lana Lang, Superboy enjoyed an eventful, wonderful life which only got better in Adventure Comics #210 (March 1955), as Otto Binder, Swan & Sy Barry introduced a waywardly mischievous and dangerously playful canine companion who had survived Krypton’s doom due to a freak accident. Krypto had been Kal-El’s pet on Krypton and used by Jor-El in desperation as a test animal for the space rocket he was building.

The dog’s miraculous arrival on Earth after years heralded a wave of survivors from the dead world over the latter part of the decade: all making Superboy feel less lonely and unique. Every boy needs a dog…

One of those latter additions debuted in Superboy #76, (December 1958) wherein by Binder & George Papp introduced ‘The Super Monkey from Krypton!’: one of Jor-El’s lab animals who had escaped and hidden in the baby’s spaceship. Hey, the world was ending: who had time to police lab specimens?

Dubbed “Beppo”, the super-monkey spent months in Earth’s jungles before accidentally finding Smallville and making life uncomfortable for toddler Clark Kent…

Set after she had been adopted and become a public hero rather than clandestine secret weapon, Action Comics #292 and 293 (September & October 1963) saw Supergirl acquire a mysterious new animal accomplice in the first two chapters of a trilogy by Leo Dorfman & Mooney. The extended storyline began when the typical (albeit invulnerable) teen got a new “pet”. ‘The Super-Steed of Steel!’ was a beautiful white horse who helped her stave off an alien invasion, but the creature had a bizarre and mysterious past, revealed in ‘The Secret Origin of Supergirl’s Super-Horse!’ as his being a magically transformed centaur from ancient Greece. Sadly, the resolution of this this tryptic (‘The Mutiny of Super-Horse’) is not included here…

Briefly digressing, what follows is a short saga of a non-powered animal marvel as Batman #125 (August 1959) details ‘The Secret Life of Bat-Hound!’ by Bill Finger, Sheldon Moldoff & Charles Paris. For no reason I could possibly speculate upon, Ace the Bat-Hound debuted in Batman #92 (June 1955), by Bill Finger, Sheldon Moldoff & Charles Paris: a distinctive German shepherd temporally adopted by Bruce Wayne when John Wilker (Ace’s owner) was abducted. A skilled tracker with distinctive facial markings, the pooch inserted himself into the case repeatedly, forcing the Dynamic Duo to mask him up whilst they sought his abducted master and foiled a criminal plot. Like Krypto, Ace reappeared intermittently until Wayne stopped borrowing him and just adopted the amazing mutt.

Here, the original creative team have Ace narrate how that adoption happened in ‘The Secret Life of Bat-Hound’ (Batman #125, August 1959), and include his crucial part in capturing the nefarious gold-obsessed Midas Gang…

William Moulton Marston & Harry G. Peter convey us to Princess Diana’s childhood as Wonder Woman #23 (June 1947) reveals – via home movies of her seventh birthday – how mighty space-hopping marsupials migrated to Paradise Island and changed Amazon battle tactics forever in ‘Wonder Woman and the Coming of the Kangas!’ after which Adventure Comics #256 (January 1959) details  ‘The Ordeal of Aquaman’ as he is trapped in a desert and saved from dehydrating doom by his faithful octopus Topo in a smartly inventive yarn from Robert Bernstein & Ramona Fradon.

The Supergirl tale in Action Comics #266 (July 1960, by Siegel, & Mooney) sees ‘The World’s Mightiest Cat!’ Streaky inadvertently contribute to the isolation of an orphan boy with a reputation for tall tales before Krypto and the Maid of Might make everything right whilst Adventure Comics #293 (February 1962) delivers a gripping landmark thriller from Siegel, Swan & George Klein.

‘The Legion of Super-Traitors’ posits human Legionnaires abruptly turning evil, prompting Saturn Girl to recruit a Legion of Super-Pets comprising Krypto, Streaky, Beppo and Comet to save the world from mind-controlling alien brains in floating glass jars – and yes, I typed all that with a reasonably straight face…

After the human Legion won their own regular series, the animal brigade were ratified and rewarded with their own branch, and Adventure Comics #322 (July 1964, by Edmond Hamilton, John Forte & Moldoff) saw them expand their roster in ‘The Super-Tests of the Super-Pets!’: a sheer bonkers slice of fun-filled futurism wherein the animal companions were left to guard Earth as the biped players pursued the elusive Time Trapper.

When Chameleon Boy’s shapeshifting (and fully sapient) pet Proty II applied to join the bestial bunch, they gave him a series of extremely difficult qualification tasks …which they breezed through…

A long-neglected tale follows as ‘The Revenge of the Super-Pets!’ (Superman #176, April 1965 by Dorfman, Swan & Klein) sees the a beast brood join the Human of Steel in a time travel jaunt that solves a legal mystery and explains how the growth of modern animal rights began!

Wrapping up with a more dramatic romp from Adventure Comics #364 (January 1968), ‘The Revolt of the Super-Pets!’ is by Jim Shooter & Pete Costanza: a gripping two-parter that depicts how the crafty rulers of planet Thanl attempted to seduce animal adventurers Krypto, Streaky, Beppo, Comet and amorphous telepathic blob Proty II from their rightful – subordinate – positions with sweet words and palatial new homes.

Of course, the aliens had a cunning scheme in play, but failed to realise these were not dumb animals…

Brilliantly reviving the beguiling innocence of the Silver Age for new, fun-seeking generations, this article of animalistic arcana is an unadulterated frolic to stir the elderly like me and enchant the newest DC disciples. Fetch!
© 1947, 1955, 1958, 1959, 1960, 1961, 1962, 1964, 1965, 1968, 2022 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Super-Friends: Saturday Morning Comics volume 1


By E. Nelson Bridwell, Denny O’Neil, Ramona Fradon, Kurt Schaffenberger, Ric Estrada, Alex Toth, Joe Orlando, Bob Smith, Vince Colletta with Dick Giordano & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-9542-4 (HB/Digital edition)

Once upon a time comics were primarily created with kids in mind and, whilst I’d never advocate exclusively going back to those days, the modern industry has for the longest time sinned by not properly addressing the needs and tastes of younger fans these days. Happily, DC has latterly been rectifying the situation with a number of new and – most importantly for old geeks like me – remastered, repackaged age-appropriate gems from their vast back catalogue.

A superb case in point of all-ages comics done right is this massive (and frankly, rather expensive) tome. And don’t stress the title: it may celebrate the joys of past childhood shows but this book is definitely a great big Sunday “settle back and luxuriate” treat…

The Super Friends: Saturday Morning Comics volume 1 gathers the comic book tales which spun off from a popular Saturday Morning TV Cartoon show: one that, thanks to the canny craftsmanship and loving invention of lead scripter E. Nelson Bridwell, became an integral and unmissable component of the greater DC Universe.

It was also one of the most universally thrilling and satisfying superhero titles of the period for older fans: featuring the kind of smart and witty, straightforward adventures people my age grew up with, produced during a period when the entire industry was increasingly losing itself in colossal continued storylines and bombastic, convoluted, soap opera melodrama.

It’s something all creators should have tattooed on their foreheads: sometimes all you really want is a smart plot well illustrated, sinister villains well-smacked, a solid resolution and early bed…

The TV show Super Friends ran (under various iterations) from 1973 to 1986; starring primarily Superman, Batman and Robin, Wonder Woman, Aquaman and a brace of studio-originated kids as student crimebusters, supplemented by occasional guest stars from the DCU on a case by case basis. The animated series made the transition to print as part of the publisher’s 1976 foray into “boutiqued” comics which saw titles with a television connection cross-marketed as “DC TV Comics”.

Child-friendly Golden Age comicbook revival Shazam!- the Original Captain Marvel had been adapted into a successful live action series and its Saturday Morning silver screen stablemate The Secrets of Isis consequently reversed the process by becoming a comic book.

With the additions of hit comedy show Welcome Back Kotter and animated blockbuster Super Friends four-colour format, DC had a neat little outreach imprimatur tailor-made to draw viewers into the magic word of funnybooks.

At least that was the plan: with the exception of Super Friends none of the titles lasted more than ten issues beyond their launch…

This massive mega-extravaganza (part 1 of 2) collects Super Friends #1-26 (spanning November 1976 to November 1979), includes promo comic Aquateers Meet the Super Friends and reprints material from Limited Collectors’ Edition #C-41 and C-46. It also opens with a lovely and moving introduction from illustrator Ramona Fradon (Aquaman; Metamorpho the Element Man; Brenda Starr, Reporter).

The fun begins a crafty two-part caper by the wondrous E. Nelson Bridwell and illustrators Ric Estrada, Vince Colletta & Joe Orlando. ‘The Fury of the Super Foes’ finds heroes-in-training Wendy and Marvin – and their incredibly  astute mutt Wonderdog – studying at the palatial Hall of Justice, even as elsewhere, a confederation of villains prove that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery… if not outright intellectual theft.

Having auditioned a host of young criminals, The Penguin, Cheetah, Flying Fish, Poison Ivy and Toyman are creating a squad of sidekicks and protégés to follow in their felonious footsteps. At last Chick, Kitten, Sardine, Honeysuckle and Toyboy are all ready and willing to carry out their first caper…

When the giant “Troubalert” screen informs our heroes of a three-pronged attack on S.T.A.R. Labs’ latest inventions, the champion team split up to tackle the crises, but are thoroughly trounced until Wendy and Marvin break curfew to help them. As a result of the clash, Chick and Kitten are brought back to the Hall of Justice, but their talk of repentance is a rascally ruse and they secretly sabotage vital equipment…

Thankfully, Wonderdog has seen everything and quickly finds a way to inform the still-oblivious good guys in issue #2, but too late to prevent the Super Friends being briefly ‘Trapped by the Super Foes’…

Aided and abetted by inker Bob Smith, the incomparable Fradon became penciller with #3, as ‘The Cosmic Hit Man?’ sees 50 intergalactic super-villains murdered by infernal Dr. Ihdrom, who blends their harvested essences to create an apparently unbeatable hyper-horror and utterly overwhelm Earth’s heroic defenders. However, he falls victim to his own arrogance and Wendy and Marvin’s logical deductions…

‘Riddles and Rockets!’ sees the Super Friends overmatched by new ne’er-do-well Skyrocket whilst simultaneously trying to cope with a rash of crimes contrived by King of Conundra The Riddler. Soon a pattern emerges and a criminal connection is confirmed…

Author Bridwell (Secret Six; Inferior Five; Batman; Superman; The Flash; Legion of Super-Heroes; Captain Marvel/Shazam!) was justly famed as DC’s Keeper of Lore and Continuity Cop thanks to an astoundingly encyclopaedic knowledge of its publishing minutiae and ability to instantly recall every damn thing! ‘Telethon Treachery!’ gave him plenty of scope to display it with a host of near-forgotten guest-stars joining the heroes as they host a televised charity event whilst money-mad menace Greenback lurks in the wings, awaiting his moment to grab the loot and kidnap the wealthiest donors…

The Atom (Ray Palmer) plays a crucial role in stopping the depredations of an animal trainer using beasts as bandits in ‘The Menace of the Menagerie Man!’ before a huge cast change is unveiled in #7 (October 1977) with ‘The Warning of the Wondertwins’…

You know TV is very different from comics. When a new season of Super Friends aired, Wendy, Marvin and Wonderdog were abruptly gone, replaced without explanation by aliens Zan and Jayna and elastic-tailed space monkey Gleek. With room to extrapolate – and in consideration of fans – Bridwell explained the sudden change via a battle to save Earth from annihilation whilst introducing the newest student heroes’ in memorable style…

At the Hall of Justice Wendy and Marvin spot a spaceship hurtling to Earth on the Troubalert monitor and dash off to intercept it. Aboard are two siblings from distant planet Exor: a girl able to transform into animals and a boy who can become any form of water from steam to ice. They have come carrying an urgent warning…

Superman’s alien enemy Grax has resolved to eradicate humanity and devised a dozen different super-bombs and attendant weird-science traps to ensure his victory. The weapons are scattered all over Earth and even the entire Justice League cannot stretch its resources to cover every angle and threat. To Wendy and Marvin the answer is obvious: call upon the help and knowledge of hyper-powered local heroes…

Soon Superman and Israel’s champion The Seraph are dismantling a black hole bomb whilst Elongated Man and titan-tressed Godiva perform similar service on a life-eradicator in England. Flash (Barry Allen) and mighty-leaping Impala dismantle uncatchable ordnance in South Africa. Hawkman and Hawkwoman join Native American avenger Owlwoman to crush darkness-breeding monsters in Oklahoma whilst from the Hall of Justice Wendy, Marvin and the Wonder Twins monitor the crisis with a modicum of mounting hope…

The cataclysmic epic continues in #8 with ‘The Mind Killers!’ as Atom and Rising Son tackle a device designed to decimate Japan, even as in Ireland Green Lantern Hal Jordan and Jack O’Lantern battle multi-hued monstrosities before switching off their technological terror.

In New Zealand, time-scanning Tuatara tips off Red Tornado to the position of a bomb cached in the distant past and Venezuela’s doom is diverted through a team-up between Batman and Robin and reptile-themed champion Bushmaster, whilst Taiwan benefits from a melding of sonic superpowers possessed by Black Canary and the astounding Thunderlord…

The saga soars to a classic climax with ‘Three Ways to Kill a World!’ in which the final phases of Grax’s scheme finally fail thanks to Green Arrow and Tasmanian Devil in Australia, Aquaman and Little Mermaid in the seas off Denmark and Wonder Woman and The Olympian in Greece.

Or at least, they would have if the Hellenic heroes had found the right foe. Sadly, their triumph against Wrong-Place, Right-Time terrorist Colonel Conquest almost upset everything. Thankfully, the quick thinking students send an army of defenders to Antarctica where Norwegian novice Icemaiden dismantles the final booby-trap bomb.

However, whilst the adult champions are thus engaged, Grax invades the Hall of Justice seeking revenge on the pesky whistleblowing Exorian kids. He is completely unprepared for and overwhelmed by Wendy, Marvin and Wonderdog, who categorically prove they’re ready to graduate to the big leagues…

With Zan and Jayna enrolled as the latest heroes-in-training, Super Friends #10 details their adoption by Batman’s old associate – and eccentric time travel theoretician – Professor Carter Nichols, just before a legion of alien horrors arrive on Earth to teach the kids that appearances can be lethally deceiving in ‘The Monster Menace!’

‘Kingslayer’ then pits the heroes against criminal mastermind Overlord who has contracted the world’s greatest hitman to murder more than one hundred leaders at one sitting…

Another deep dive into DC’s past resurrected Golden Age titans T.N.T and Dan, the Dyna-Mite in ‘The Atomic Twosome!’ The 1940s mystery men had been under government wraps ever since their radioactive powers began to melt down, but when an underground catastrophe ruptures their individual lead-lined vaults, the Super Friends are called in to prevent potential nuclear nightmare…

The subterranean reason for the near tragedy is tracked to a monstrous mole creature, and leads to the introduction of eternal mystic Doctor Mist, who reveals the secret history of civilisation and begs help to halt ‘The Mindless Immortal!’, before its random burrowing shatters mankind’s cities. Bridwell built a fascinating new team concept that would come to support decades of future continuity…

Super Friends #14 opens with ‘Elementary!’; introducing four ordinary mortals forever changed when they are possessed by ancient sprits and tasked by Overlord with plundering the world. When the heroes scotch the scheme, Undine, Salamander, Sylph and Gnome retain their powers and become a crime-fighting team – The Elementals…

The issue also contains a short back-up illustrated by Kurt Schaffenberger & Bob Smith. ‘The Origin of the Wondertwins’ at last reveals how the Exorian genetic throwbacks – despised outcasts on their homeworld – fled from a circus of freaks and uncovered Grax’s plot before taking that fateful voyage to Earth…

Big surprises come in ‘The Overlord Goes Under!’ (Fradon & Smith) as the Elementals begin battling evil by joining the Super Friends in crushing the crook. All the heroes are blithely unaware that they are merely clearing the way for a far more cunningly and subtle mastermind to take Overlord’s place…

‘The People Who Stole the Sky!’ in #16 is a grand, old-fashioned alien invasion yarn, foiled by the team and the increasingly adept Wonder Twins whilst ‘Trapped in Two Times!’ has Zan and Jayna used by the insidious Time Trapper (nee Time Master) to lure the adult heroes into deadly peril on planet Krypton in the days before it detonated, and future water world Neryla in the hours before it’s swallowed by its critically expanding red sun.

After rescuing the kids – thanks largely to Superman’s legendary lost love Lyla Ler-Rol – the Super Friends employ Tuatara’s chronal insight and Professor Nichol’s obscure chronal methodologies to hunt the Trapper in a riotous yet educational ‘Manhunt in Time!’ (art by Schaffenberger & Smith), by way of Atlantis before it sank, medieval Spain and Michigan in 1860CE, to thwart a triple-strength scheme to derail history and end Earth civilisation…

SF #19 sees the return of Menagerie Man in ‘The Mystery of the Missing Monkey!’ (Fradon & Smith) as the animal exploiter appropriates Gleek: intent on turning his elastic-tailed talents into a perfect pickpocketing tool, after which Denny O’Neil (writing as Sergius O’Shaugnessy) teams with Schaffenberger & Smith for a more jocular turn.

Chaos and comedy ensue when the team tackles vegetable monsters unleashed when self-obsessed shlock-movie director Frownin’ Fritz Frazzle uses Merlin’s actually magical Magic Lantern to make a “masterpiece” on the cheap in ‘Revenge of the Leafy Monsters!’…

Bridwell & Fradon return in #21 where ‘Battle Against the Super Fiends!’ has the heroes travelling to Exor to combat super-criminals who can duplicate their power-sets, after which ‘It’s Never Too Late!’ (#22, O’Shaugnessy, Fradon & Smith) reveals how time bandit Chronos subjects the Super Friends to a chronal-delay treatment rendering them perennially too late to stop him – until Batman and the Wonder Twins out-think him…

The Mirror Master divides and banishes teachers from students in #23 but is ultimately unable to prevent an ‘SOS from Nowhere!’ (Bridwell, Fradon & Smith) to the Flash. This episode also spends time fleshing out the Wonder Twins’ earthly secret identities as Gotham Central highschoolers John and Joanna Fleming…

With” O’Shaugnessy” scripting, ‘Past, Present and Danger!’ sees Zan and Jayna’s faces found engraved on a recently-unearthed Egyptian pyramid. Upon investigation inside the edifice, the heroes awaken two ancient exiles who resemble the kids, but who are in truth criminals who fled Exorian justice thousands of years previously. How lucky, then, that the kids are perfect doubles that the villains can send back with the robot cops surrounding the pyramid… once they’ve got rid of the Earthling heroes…

Enjoying promotion through treachery, the habitually harassed “Underling” has seized power at last in Bridwell’s ‘Puppets of the Overlord’, and uses forbidden technology to mind-control the adult and junior heroes. Happily, international champions Green Fury (later Fire), Wonder Woman’s sister Nubia, Tasmanian Devil and Seraph can join Green Lantern and Queen Mera of Atlantis in delivering a liberating solution, after which this splendid selection of super thrills pauses with #26 as Bridwell, Fradon & Smith bring back some old friends and enemies for ‘The Wondertwins’ Battle of Wits!’ as a scheming former Bat-foe enacts an infallibly murderous plot…

Rounding out the frenetic fun is a features section that includes the Alex Toth cover from Limited Collectors’ Edition #C-41,and new material from sequel C-46: a comic strip collaboration with Bridwell on introductory tale ‘Super Friends’ which was a star-studded framing sequence for a big reprint issue of Justice League classics.

The wonders are further augmented by Toth’s comprehensive pictorial essay on creating ‘TV Cartoons’ (with contributions from Bob Foster), plus his ‘The JLA on TV’ model sheets, and designs of The Hall of Justice’ by Terry Austin. Toth was the lead designer on the characters’ transition to TV animation.

The extras go on with mini-comic Aquateers Meet the Super Friends – a 1979 promotional giveaway included with every purchase of Super Friends Swim Goggles. An uncredited framing sequence (which looks like a Continuity Associates project that Dick Giordano & Frank McLoughlin had a hand in) segues into ‘The Greatest Show on Water’ – an Aquaman short originally published in Adventure Comics #219, December 1955.

That’s followed by ‘ “Super Fans Letters” Letters Pages’ from Super Friends #1-3, offering potted histories of DC heroes and villains, ‘The Super Friends Subscription’ house ad from #26 and Alex Ross’ painted cover from 2001 book Super Friends!

With covers by Fradon, Smith, Schaffenberger, Colletta, Ernie Chan and more, this initial compendium is superbly entertaining, masterfully crafted and utterly engaging. It offers stories of pure comics gold to delight children and adults in equal proportion. Truly generational in appeal, they are probably the closest thing to an American answer to the magic of Tintin or Asterix and no family home should be without this tome.
© 1976, 1977, 1978, 1979, 2001, 2020 DC Comics, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Richard Dragon: Kung Fu Fighter: Coming of the Dragon!


By Dennis J. O’Neil, David Anthony Kraft, Bob Haney, Mike W. Barr, Leopoldo Durañona, Jim Starlin, Alan Weiss, Jack Kirby, Ric Estrada, Jim Aparo, Alex Saviuk Wally Wood, Jack Abel, Al Milgrom, D. Bruce Berry, Vince Colletta & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-7795-0810-2 (HC/Digital edition)

The mysterious martial arts of the Orient have always fascinated western readers and writers. Adventurers like Batman, Doc Savage, The Spider and The Shadow drew much of their history and arsenal from the arcane Orient and even intellectual champion Sherlock Holmes occasionally employed the scientific combat system of “Baritsu” – actually a mixed martial art called Bartitsu which developed between 1898-1902. Moreover, every secret agent worth their salt was au fait with assorted “chop sockey” techniques: generally disparaging them while delivering a signature blow…

Putting aside references in assorted newspaper strips, the first specialist martial arts comic book star was Judo Joe: a young American raised in Japan who used his training for the benefit of all. Three issues were released between August and December 1953: the work of Dr Barney Cosneck and illustrator Paul W. Stoddard, setting the tone of the genre as well devising as an enduring feature illustrated lessons on specific moves and techniques. Kids! DO try this at home (but not on the cat, that why we let you have little brothers…)!

Comics in the 1960s were sprinkled with judo and karate users, and by far the most accurate forms were employed by Charlton Comics champions Sarge Steel (#1 December 1964, by Pat Masulli & Dick Giordano) and WWII costumed combatant Judomaster (first seen in Special War Series #4, November 1965): both benefitting from the Kung Fu knowledge and artistic skills of Frank McLaughlin – an actual judoka who had studied martial arts for years.

Gold Key simply exploited licensing power. Television’s The Green Hornet ran 26 episodes from September 1966 to March 1967 and their comics adaptation (3 issues from February to August 1967) played up the combat skills of the mystery man’s chauffeur/partner Kato. You’ll recall I’m sure, that he was played by young Bruce Lee who was in very large part responsible for the popularisation of martial arts in the west… especially after graduating to film roles.

When the big boom began in the early 1970s, Charlton were again quick off the mark: launching their own knock-off of TV series Kung Fu. Running 18 issues, Yang (by Joe Gill & Warren Sattler) launched with a November 1973 cover-date, recounting the life of a Chinese wanderer in the 1870s wild west. It spawned sequel House of Yang (#1-6 July 1975-June 1976) by Korean comics creator Sanho Kim which remains a visual highpoint to this day… if you can find it.

Marvel really reaped the benefits of the zeitgeist with the launch of Shang Chi, Master of Kung Fu in Special Marvel Edition #15 (cover-dated December 1973) and a flood of follow-ups including Iron Fist, Sons of the Tiger, Daughters of the Dragon and White Tiger.

As ever – and despite teenager Jim Shooter introducing Karate Kid to the Legion of Super-Heroes in 1966 (Adventure Comics #346, July) – ever-cautious DC were late to the party, even though one of their key writers was also the co-author of a Kung Fu novel…

…And Karate Kid? As the martial arts boom was subsiding, DC awarded him his own solo series, set primarily in the 20th century: 15 bi-monthly issues running from March/April 1976 to July/August 1978. He travelled through time and across realities, but never met the stars of this particular show…

The Seventies began with a downturn in superhero sales and a resurgence of traditional genre comic tales. A few years in, a new genre emerged: one blending eastern philosophy and personal combat systems with a real-world growth in organised crime – especially drug trafficking. Popular fiction responded with a wave of lone wolf vigilantes like Mack (The Executioner) Bolan and martial arts icon Remo Williams: The Destroyer, as hardboiled crime thrillers evolved and genres began to mash up…

Riding his own wave of comic success and celebrity from Batman, Justice League of America, Wonder Woman, Green Lantern/Green Arrow and Superman, former journalist Dennis J. O’Neil teamed up with editorial cartoonist James R, Berry to write a prose thriller for this burgeoning market. Under the pen-name Jim Dennis, they detailed the life path of teenage thug Richard Drakunovski after finding friends and direction with a martial arts sensei. Kung Fu Master, Richard Dragon: Dragon’s Fists was released in 1974 and ultimately pitted the hero against evil industrialist Guano Cravat…

With a phenomenon unfolding around them, DC joined the parade of warriors by having O’Neil adapt the book, expanding the premise and adding significantly to their pantheon of stars in the process: not so much with the leading man but through his potential-packed supporting cast.

Spanning April/May 1975 to November 1981, this fast and furious compendium collects Richard Dragon: Kung Fu Fighter #1-18; a team-up from The Brave and the Bold #132, plus a closing note from DC Comics Presents #39. In keeping with the tone of the genre and time, these stories are tersely underwritten and potently action driven, but racial and gender issues are ubiquitous and expressed in the terms of the times…

Opening episode ‘Coming of a Dragon!’ is credited to Jim Dennis and illustrated by comics legend Leopoldo Durañona, revealing how a teenager’s attempt to burgle a dojo in Kyoto, Japan is foiled by the head teacher O-Sensei. The venerable ancient easily masters the violent thief and then invites to him to change his life path. Richard Dragon spends the next seven years mastering countless forms of Kung Fu, higher education and his own raging nature, forming a lifelong bond with his fellow student, black American Ben Turner and seeking to become a physically and ethically “Superior Man”…

The idyllic period ends the day unctuous freelance spymaster Barney Ling turns up. He runs acronymic organisation G.O.O.D. and begs the legendary O-Sensei to aid him in stopping a world class human trafficker. Instead, the master sends his students against an army of brutes and monsters…

O’Neil, Jim Starlin, Alan Weiss & Al Milgrom tackled ‘A Dragon Fights Alone’ as, wounded but triumphant, the duo return to Japan only to be targeted by the hired thugs of a hidden enemy. The attack comes in the wake of a tearful graduation, as they seek to aid O-Sensei’s goddaughter Carolyn Woosan, and results in them all heading for San Francisco. There, mercenary The Swiss had orchestrated her uncle’s death whilst searching for a deadly secret. When the freshly-debarked adventurers investigate, Ben is shot and Carolyn taken…

It clearly took some time to assign an art-team as Jack Kirby & D. Bruce Berry limned third instalment as ‘Claws of the Dragon!’ as an enraged hero hunts The Swiss, and trounces an army of assassins, thanks in no small part to his secret weapon – a jade claw that allows him to focus all his knowledge and fury and become a beast of battle…

Crushed by continuing failure to save Carolyn, Dragon and Ben reluctantly accept help from Ling and G.O.O.D. Marshalling his resources and infiltrating a suspect dojo, Dragon accepts that there is ‘A Time to be a Whirlwind!’, and again overcomes all physical opposition, but once more fails Carolyn – this time, forever. This shattering clash signalled the start of artistic stability as Ric Estrada took over pencilling, augmented by master inker Wally Wood…

Sandra Woosan debuts in #5, a woman destined to be a major player in DC continuity. Cover-dated December 1975/January 1976, ‘The Arena of No Exit!’ introduced Lady Shiva, a conflict-addicted swordswoman seeking bloody redress for her murdered sister. She was working for grotesque super arms-dealer Guano Cravat (the secret mastermind behind The Swiss), but rejected her assignment to kill Dragon once she had fought him and realised that staying in his orbit would generate all the murderous duels her killer’s heart hungered for…

In later years she would evolve into the most dangerous assassin on Earth: a major opponent of Batman, Robin, assorted Batgirls, Black Canary, the Birds of Prey and many others.

After foiling Cravat’s scheme, Dragon and Shiva are rewarded by Ling with magnificent matched swords: katana crafted by an 18th century master smith. However, it’s just a ploy to sweeten them up. G.O.O.D. needs them to recover a “misplaced” nuke on a volcanic island: one ruled by a modern pirate with an obsessive fixation on fighting with swords. He calls himself Slash…

The spectacular conclusion of ‘Island of the Inferno’ leads to a confrontation with occasional Batman and Wonder Woman villain Doctor Moon who uses Cravat’s money to transform mere humans into surgically-augmented programmable super-warriors in #7’s ‘Command: Slay the Dragon!’ All this time, Ben has been healing and teaching at the dojo he runs with Dragon, but his life is about to change after becoming romantically entangled with promising student Janey Lewis. When she and other students are attacked by Moon’s thugs, Dragon and Shiva retaliate but are almost killed by Moon’s colossal cyborg Topper. Almost…

Another old foe resurfaces in #8, striking at his despised enemies by murdering more dojo students and rendering the hero temporarily sightless, facilitating his scheme to ‘Slay the Blind Dragon’…

Estrada inks his own pencils in #9 as Barney Ling returns, revealing that many recent dojo attacks are masking a hidden plot to assassinate Ben. The manipulative G.O.O.D. guy offers to reveal all, but only if all three kung fu fighters carry out a few errands for him…

Thus Turner, Shiva and Dragon depart for tropical San Lorenzo to stop a monster ravaging the tourist destination: a thieving mutated killer known as ‘The Preying Mantis’, after which Ben discovers he’s inherited millions in prime timberland and heads north, with his allies in tow.

The lumberjacks are certainly killers embezzling all the profits. They have already murdered Turner’s sister – leaving him the guardian of an unsuspected nephew also called Ben – and their leader Hatchett does everything possible to destroy the nosy snoopers in ‘The Human Inferno!’ (inked by Jack Abel). However, the assassination attempts only slow, but do not cease…

Cover-dated September 1976, #11 offers a change of pace and scripter as David Anthony Kraft joins Estrada & Abel in a byzantine futuristic spy conspiracy that begins ‘When Strikes the Samurai!’ After being targeted by a disappearing Japanese warrior, the trio are sent into Communist China to secure an object dubbed the Tiger Tally which in turn could unlock the secrets of bewildering Project Moon Age Daydream…

The mission results in a trail of dropped bodies before ‘A Dragon Defiant’ is subjected to a duplication device that results in him literally beating himself up before thwarting rival maniacs Telegram Sam and Madame Sun…

Back in the USA for #13, the drama increases with O’Neil & Estrada’s reunion, as Ben is poisoned and Dragon and Shiva carve their way through a murderous legion ‘To Catch an Assassin!’ and secure an antidote. When that proves fruitless, detective work leads them to The League of Assassins and a desperate quest for their chief deviser of toxins.

Viper makes his potions in the wilds of Mongolia – perilously close to the Soviet Russian border – and the countdown quest allows no time for restraint, which only allows Shiva opportunity to do the work she loves without being held back…

With Turner’s death imminent, we pause here for a diversionary team-up as The Brave and the Bold #132 (February 1977 by veteran writer Bob Haney & ultimate guest star artist Jim Aparo) enquires ‘Batman – Dragon Slayer??’

When Denny O’Neil succeeded Murray Boltinoff as B&B editor, it resulted in a rather forced tale of duelling fight stylists after a publicity-shy billionaire sought to repay an imagined debt to good Samaritan Dragon by leaving him a mysterious bequest…

In his own title, Dragon’s quest for a cure takes him back to China to find the O-Sensei’s. At that time, unknown to all, his former master was Dr. Moon’s prisoner, so Richard and Shiva’s mission generates massive mayhem and an inconclusive duel with ‘The Man Who Studied with Bruce Lee’: a gullible yet proficient martial arts purist who had learned all the celebrity’s lost secrets…

The clash might have been pointless, but the rescued O-Sensei cures Turner, who pursues his relationship with Janey to the point of asking her father for permission to wed. Tragically, at that moment in #15, ‘The Axeman’ attacks Shipyard Security Chief Luke Lewis and his adored daughter is fatally caught in the crossfire…

Crushed and broken inside, Ben hunts the killer with Dragon at his side, uncovering shocking betrayal that intensifies his fury into mania. Using all their resources, they follow to the top of the world in #16, where ‘The Doom Seer’ – outrageous and tyrannical madman Professor Ojo (later to be a Green Lantern nemesis) – pits them and Lady Shiva against outlandish martial arts skaters and an arsenal of scientific terrors before #17’s ‘The Final Victim’ provides a spectacular conclusion, but no resolution…

Richard Dragon: Kung Fu Fighter finished with #18, but ‘The Secret of the Bronze Tiger’ set up years more stories. Bereft, Turner had vanished, presumed killed battling Ojo, whilst Dragon sank into despair and dissolution. Finally, Shiva dragged him out to investigate a mysterious masked martial artist and illegal fight club. Dragon was stunned to discover Ben was the Tiger – who retained all his skills but was apparently a ruthless criminal with no memory…

This storyline was picked up and expanded upon in future Batman tales involving Ra’s Al Ghul’s League of Assassins and sinister splinter group Demonfang – whose leader was an ancient killer called The Sensei – and result in Bronze Tiger becoming an integral part of the Suicide Squad of post-Crisis on Infinite Earths DC Universe. In that rebuilt continuity, Shiva and Dragon would become crucial to the development of The Question (Vic Sage) and other martial arts-based characters, emphasising the ripple-effect of “the Superior Man” on an entire heroic universe…

Here however, there’s an epilogue of sorts as DC Comics Presents #39 (November 1981, by Mike W. Barr, Alex Saviuk & Vince Colletta) reveals ‘Whatever Happened to Richard Dragon: Kung Fu Fighter?’ Having retreated to the peace of a Shaolin monastery, Dragon is called back to the outside world to save mind-controlled Bronze Tiger from the person who had truly been responsible for most of their perils and hardships all along…

With covers by Dick Giordano, Wiess, Milgrom, Estrada & Colletta, Jose Delbo, Ernie Chan, Aparo & Rich Buckler, and including Who’s Who character profiles of Dragon, Bronze Tiger and Lady Shiva, this compendium is very much of its time, but still offers universal thrills and spills whilst providing crucial context to all devotees of DC’s overarching multiversal continuity.
© 1975, 1976, 1977, 1981, 2021 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Batman: Gotham by Gaslight


By Brian Augustyn, Michael Mignola, P. Craig Russell & Eduardo Barreto (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-1153-0 (TPB/Digital Edition)

We lost another great in February, albeit an unfairly unsung one. Although a brilliant writer in his own right, Brian Augustyn (November 2, 1954-February 1, 2022) was mostly remarked upon for his scripting collaborations, or perhaps by the more astute for his work as an editor. He began in that role at NOWComics in 1986, on Trollords, Syphons and Speed Racer, before moving to DC in 1988 to edit the weekly Action Comics, the Impact Comics line, Justice League and most notably The Flash. He formed a writing partnership with Mark Waid, encompassing The Flash, Impulse, JLA: Year One, The Comet, The Crusaders, Event Comics’ Painkiller Jane and Ash: Cinder and Smoke, Valiant’s X-O Manowar and most recently the magnificent Archie 1941.

On his own, he scripted Black Condor, Black Mask, Marvel’s Imperial Guard, Out There, Crimson, Mega Man, Amped (in Giant Comics) and the landmark concept/character which forms the basis of this this memorial.

Brian Augustyn died from a stroke on February 1st.

Originally released in 1989 as a 52-page prestige-format (glossy paper, cardstock covers better printing) one shot, Gotham By Gaslight was a sensation. Offering an alternate history for Batman in a chillingly familiar scenario and locale it opened the doors for similar experimentation with all DC’s other properties and directly led to the formation of an eclectic publishing imprint for all such out-continuity “Imaginary Stories”: Elseworlds. As well as opening the doors of creativity, it also fostered crossovers with other companies’ properties, by giving fans a handle to hang such non-canonical stunts on…

From 2013, this edition combines the classic Gotham By Gaslight with its cruelly neglected sequel Master of the Future.

The conceit of the landmark first story is the transposition of the most recognisable icons of the Batman mythos to the end of the 19th century, enabling troubled millionaire and would be avenger Bruce Wayne to begin his shrouded career in gory battle with the world’s most famous serial killer: Jack the Ripper.

Augustyn’s moody, edgy and so-broodingly steam-punk script was elevated to spectacular heights by the astounding artwork of comic giants Mike Mignola & P Craig Russell, and the results have long been considered one of the comic’s high points ever since.

Which in some ways is a shame, as Master of the Future is in many respects a better story. Augustyn finds space and time to flesh out Wayne’s character and show him as an individual, not a transplanted clone of the man we all know, and the drama is gilded by the superb and criminally unappreciated art of Eduardo Barreto splendidly recreating the turn of the (20th) century technological wonderment of Jules Verne (specifically Robur the Conqueror/The Clipper of the Clouds and Master of the World).

Here, as prototypical Mad Scientist Andre LeRoi threatens to destroy the burgeoning metropolis of Gotham City from his airborne dreadnought, only the by-now-disenchanted Batman could possibly stand against him… if he can be bothered.

Augustyn’s intriguing examination of vigilante motivation once the transformational forces of grievance and anger are expiated, especially in an era and milieu of extreme wealth and privilege, provides an interesting counterpoint to the mind-numbing obsession of the “real” caped crusader.

Batman was voted the most popular comic character of the 20th century. How strange, then, that two of his best escapades deal with the age before then and are directed by someone you probably never heard of? How about judging for yourselves with this superb collection?
© 1989, 1991, 2006 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Crisis on Infinite Earths


By Marv Wolfman & George Pérez, with Jerry Ordway, Dick Giordano, Mike DeCarlo & various (DC Comics) 
ISBN: 978-1-4012-5841-2 (HB/Digital edition) 978-1-56389-750-4 (TPB) 

Once more I’m compelled to dash out another swiftly modified reprinted review to mark the passing of one of our industry and art form’s most prolific and irreplaceable master creators. George Pérez died on May 6th from the complications of pancreatic cancer. He was 67 years old.  

His triumphs as penciller, writer and an always in-demand inker made him a force to be reckoned with and earned a vast number of awards in a career spanning almost fifty years. Pérez worked for dozens of publishers large and small; self-published his own creations, redeemed and restored many moribund characters and features (like the (New) Teen Titans), Nightwing and Wonder Woman) and co-created many breakthrough characters such as The White Tiger (first Puerto Rican superhero), The Maestro, Deathstroke the Terminator, Terra, The Monitor and Anti-Monitor.  

He will be most warmly remembered for his incredible facility in portraying big teams and cataclysmic events. Pérez probably drew every DC and Marvel superhero of his era, with major runs on The Avengers, The Fantastic Four, The Justice League of America, Legion of Super-Heroes and numerous iterations of Teen Titans as well as stints on The Inhumans, X-Men, JSA, All-Star Squadron, Thunderbolts and T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents. He will be immortalised for the comic book series covered below. A fuller appreciation will follow as soon as I can sort it… 

In 1985 the Editorial Powers-That-Be at DC Comics were about to celebrate fifty years of publishing, and enjoying a creative upswing that had been a long time coming. A crucial part of the festivities, and purported attempt to simplify five decades of often conflicting stories, was a truly epic year-long saga that would impact every single DC title and reconstruct the entire landscape and history of the DC Universe, with an appearance – however brief – by every character the company had ever published. Easy-peasy, Huh? 

Additionally, this new start would seek to end an apparent confusion of multiple Earths with similarly named and themed heroes. This – it had been decided – was deterring (sic) new readers. Happily, since then (primarily thanks to movie rom-coms like Sliding Doors) we’ve all become well aware of string theory and parallel universes and can revel in the most basic TV show or kids cartoon proffering the concept of multiples incidences of me and you… 

Way back then, the result of those good intentions was a groundbreaking 12-part miniseries that spearheaded a vast crossover event: eventually culminating in a hefty graphic novel collection (plus latterly three companion volumes reprinting all the crossovers). 

The experiment was a huge success, both critically and commercially, and enabled the company to reinvigorate many of their most cherished properties: many of which had been in dire need or some regeneration and renewal. Many fans would argue that DC have been trying to change it back ever since… 

Plotted long in advance of launch, threads and portents appeared for months in DC’s regular titles, mostly regarding a mysterious arms-and-information broker known as The Monitor. With his beautiful assistant Lyla Michaels/Harbinger he had been gauging each and every being on Earths beyond counting with a view to saving all of Reality. At this juncture, that consisted of uncountable variations of universes existing “side-by-side”, each exhibiting differences varying from minor to monumental.  

Building on long-established continuity collaborators Marv Wolfman and George Pérez – aided and abetted by Dick Giordano, Mike DeCarlo and Jerry Ordway – began by tweaking things fans knew before taking them on a journey nobody anticipated… It transpired that at the very beginning of time an influence from the future caused Reality to fracture. Rogue Guardian of the Universe Krona obsessively sought to unravel the secret of creation and his probing cause a perfect singular universe to shatter into innumerable self-perpetuating cracked reflections of itself… 

Now, a wave of antimatter scythes through the Cosmic All, eradicating these separate universes. Before each Armageddon, a tormented immortal named Pariah materialises on an inhabited but doomed world of each Existence. As the story opens, he arrives on an Earth, as its closest dimensional neighbours are experiencing monumental geo-physical disruptions. It’s the end of the World, but The Monitor has a plan. It involves death on a mammoth scale, sacrifice beyond measure, a gathering of the best and worst beings of the surviving Earths and the remaking of time itself to deflect cosmic catastrophe and defeat the being that caused it… 

Action is tinged with tragedy as many major heroic figures – from the nondescript and forgotten to high, mighty and grand – perish valiantly, falling in apparently futile struggle to preserve some measure of life from the doomed multiverse. 

Full of plot twists and intrigue, this cosmic comicbook spectacle set the benchmark for all future crossover events, not just DC’s, and is still a qualitative high point seldom reached and never yet surpassed. As well as being a superb blockbuster in its own right and accessible to even the greenest neophyte reader, it is the foundation of all DC’s in-continuity stories since 1985, the basis of a TV phenomenon and absolutely vital reading.  

More than any other work in a truly stellar career, Crisis on Infinite Earths is the magnum opus George Pérez will be remembered for: It might not be fair, but it’s inescapably true… 
© 1985, 1986, 2001, 2008, 2015 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.